Category Archives: Waste

The Waste Of “Managing Up”

Time spent trying to please your boss is processing waste and provides no value to your customers.  Leaders and staff need to recognize this as a major cultural problem because it will negatively affect the long-term success for your organization.

Mark Lovas, one of the best leaders I have ever worked with, blogged in “Being on purpose and off self“:

Leadership: how much time do your people spend trying to please you versus getting the desired results? Are they experts at managing their leaders and mediocre at doing the actual thing? Are they getting good at the job or managing up? I’ve found a tremendous amount of time can be wasted by approval seeking within a company. Powerpoint, meetings, and calls devoted to finding a sense of confidence in the organization, not doing the actual thing.

In my experience, most leaders are not people who consciously demand this sort of activity, but it often persists because those that manage up often receive public praise and promotions.  You would be surprised how much time is spent when staff feel the need to game the system to look good for the boss.  Think about how that time could be better spent doing Kaizen!

Spend time assessing for “managing up” behavior.  It will be a challenging improvement because the causes will be deeply embedded in the system.  The benefit will be a clearer focus on the customer, freed up time to use in creating value, and capacity for future improvements.

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Filed under Business, Change Management, Communication, customers, Gemba, Improve With Lean, Kaizen, Learn Leadership, Personal Development, Productivity, Waste

Relieving Workplace Mayhem

Does your workday frequently feel like mayhem?  I have talked with many people who feel like their job is filled with unnecessary chaos.  I believe a lot of organizations self-inflict themselves with craziness.  There is a way to stop the mayhem!

Overburdening people (and equipment) is a form of waste.  Your organization must first identify where people experience this waste.  Usually it is very easy to find just by asking who feels they are overwhelmed. 

Here are some examples of what you may find (also note that most below do not have a paying customer waiting for the outcome):

  • Leaders asking for non-standard reports with quick deadlines (usually to sit on their desks for weeks before they look at them)
  • Constant edits or change of direction to documents because planning is often done after the content was created
  • Support departments get projects dumped on them without ever problem solving around their ability to have capacity to do the work
  • Somebody’s procrastination or lack of planning becomes another person’s urgent priority

The next step is to acknowledge this kind of mayhem is a problem.  This step is difficult because firefighting heroics and the rush of adrenaline from last-minute deadlines becomes “how things are done around here”. 

As an outside observer, I usually see little need for subjecting employees to this kind of work condition and believe it lowers engagement.  Until teams align that overburdening staff is a problem, it will continue unabated.

The final step is to identify the root causes of the mayhem and eliminate them. 

What sort of unnecessary mayhem do you experience in the workplace?

(NOTE: The attached video is only related to this post because of the title and I thought it was a cool rockabilly song!)

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Filed under Alignment, Change Management, Communication, Encouragement, Five Whys, Gemba, Improve With Lean, Improvements, Kaizen, Learn Leadership, Muri, Plan-Do-Check-Act, Problem Solving, Productivity, Quality, Reflection, Respect For People, Root Cause, Waste

Do You Have A Play Lab?

While cleaning up various packaging after my son’s first birthday, I noticed an interesting pamphlet from toy manufacturer Fisher-Price.  They have a “Play Lab” where they observe kids and families using their products to determine how to make them better!

Watching how your customers interact with your products and services will help your organization be more successful.  You will be able to better understand their needs to create new things to satisfy them.  You will spend time improving what matters because you are able to improve based on what problems you see them experiencing.

Here are a few quotes from the flyer:

…start in our Play Lab, where thousands of children test our toys in a fun, nurturing environment.  And our product designers get right down on the floor with them.

Have more than the customer-facing staff observe your customers.  Help others see how their work supports your customers.  Have leaders gain first-hand knowledge of how your products and services are being experienced.

…Fisher-Price does thousands of in-home tests – so we can really grasp how kids interact with our toys, how toys fit into their lives and how they play.

While simulated environments can tell you a lot, there is even deeper learning when observing in a natural setting.

 …we created Mom Panels, informal groups where moms can see our toy development and let us know what works for them and their children, and what doesn’t.

Engaged and loyal customers will tell you what is broken about your system if you just ask.  They will also tell you what is valuable to them.

Does your organization have a “Play Lab”?  If not, create the opportunity for many different people to be able to watch your customers use your products and services. 

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Filed under Business, Communication, Gemba, Improve With Lean, Improvements, Learn Leadership, Learning Organization, Problem Solving, Quality, Respect For People, Value Added, Waste

Does Technology Actually Provide “Solutions”?

Technology can sometimes seem like the right way to address issues but most people do not know about the extra problems it can create.  You may get a short-term win with technology but end up suffering in the long-term.

If your hospital or organization in on a Lean journey, technology can sometimes go against your philosophy and management system.

Here are some things to consider if you are looking at technology: 

  • Never automate a bad process. Eliminate waste and understand what the process really needs before you find a way to make it faster. Quicker waste is still waste.
  • IT systems should fit the process, not the other way around.  In The Birth Of Lean, there was an early Toyota document with the following: “It is not a conveyor that operates men…it is men that operate a conveyor…”  So often people change processes to meet the rigidity of the technology.  Ensure the technology does not force standardization that has waste, lowers quality, or makes no sense.
  • Be able to make changes after it is implemented. So often organizations are stuck with wasteful systems because nobody has knowledge to make iterative improvements or the cost to bring someone in is so high that nobody fixes it until it is totally broke.
  • Trial first instead of piloting. Pilots usually happen after you buy the system. I have rarely seen organizations stop implementation if a pilot does not work out like they expected.  Organizations usually just change their messaging and training to fit what the technology can do instead of ensuring it does what they wanted it to do.  Trialing is part of PDCA thinking and will help ensure the IT system meets the needs of the process without being financially committed to rolling it out.
  • Know the problem you are addressing. With today’s technology, there are all sorts of bells and whistles that seem great.  Although impressive, the added features may be more than needed (overprocessing waste) and can sometimes distract from why you were looking for technology.  These ‘extras’ can also add complexity to your processes.

I think technology can be embraced in Lean organizations but it is important to ensure it is thoroughly tested, reliable, and improvable before you commit to implementing. 

Any other tips?

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Filed under Business, Change Management, Improve With Lean, Improvements, Lean Hospital, Mura, Muri, Productivity, Project Management, Waste

A C.O.W. Tale

Does your hospital have a system to ensure nurses have working equipment or they know how to get them fixed?

I recently visited a hospital where the answer would be “NO”. 

Last week, a family member needed a day surgery procedure done at a local hospital.  There were signs in the prep/recovery room touting their move to electronic medical records and no longer needing paper charts.  The problem for the nurse was, the Computer On Wheels (C.O.W.) did not work.  The nurse was unable to access or update the electronic chart!

A second nurse came in during the morning before the procedure to try to troubleshoot the malfunctioning C.O.W.  It was decided to grab a C.O.W. from another room and use it instead.  I am not sure if other nurses had to search for the missing C.O.W. now that it has been moved into our room where it sat there for four hours.  A third nurse eventually pulled it away to put back where it belonged.

The first nurse came back in and tried to access the original C.O.W. in our room and commented “This still doesn’t work yet?”

I looked at the C.O.W. and there was no signage about how to troubleshoot or who to call.  I do not know if a nurse tried calling their helpdesk out of my view but it looked like nobody knew what to do with the broken computer.  It seemed like nobody knew who was to take charge in fixing it.  One can almost infer they expected it to magically fix itself!

Three nurses spent time reacting to faulty equipment that could have been better used providing care to patients.  Instead of spending their creativity solving patient issues, they use it creating workarounds.

Lean thinking can help hospitals put systems into place to ensure equipment always works.  Procedures can be created for what to do when something is broken and how to handle.  Make things visual so staff doesn’t have to rely on memory or look up procedures because instructions are attached to the item being used.

Helping remove waste and frustration from those giving care with make a better experience for those receiving care.

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Filed under 5S, Business, Change Management, Gemba, Health Care, Improve With Lean, Improvements, Lean Hospital, Lean Hospitals, Problem Solving, Productivity, Respect For People, Standard Work, Value Added, Visual Language, Visual Systems, Waste

Check Out My @leanblog Guest Post #lean #in

I am very honored to be asked to provide a guest post on Mark Graban’s leanblog.orgI write about the importance of empathizing with the waste patients and families experience. 

Keep on improving!

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Filed under Business, Change Management, Improve With Lean, Waste

When Visual Controls Go Bad

While this picture is a piece of artwork it made me think what your organization can look like if you view Lean only as a set of tools.  Losing the perspective of your system can easily lead to creation of complex and unusable solutions like this traffic light. 

 When I look at this traffic light tree, I picture one team adding one of the lights, then another team comes along and adds a light for their use, then a management team adds a third light to summarize what the other two teams lights represent, then more teams continue to add their light for their own use, and so forth.  While a new light may be a solution for each group individually, the net result is a confusing and unusable tool for the system.

When you set out to improve things, think about the needs and impacts to the system.  Take the time consider all options before acting.  It is not true improvement if you optimize one area but the result is sub-optimizing another.

Keep on improving!

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Filed under Business, Change Management, Consulting, humor, Improve With Lean, Improvements, Productivity, Visual Systems, Waste

Waste Of Breath: Wording Pet Peeves

In honor of National Grammar Day today, I want to share some of my favorite wording pet peeves for a little fun.  I am reaching to bring this into the lean world but there are overprocessing waste due to saying more than needed.

  • “Free Gift”: I have never heard of someone paying for a gift.  They are usually always free, no need to add the word.
  • I need to “respond back”: There is no way to respond in advance.  A response is always back to the person, so no need to add back.
  • I was thinking “in my head”: Where else would you think?  I can’t think in someone else’s head.
  • “Tunafish”: Just say tuna.  You never say halibutfish or salmonfish. 

Please share your wording pet peeves!

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Filed under Communication, humor, Improve With Lean, Waste

Windows Of Frustration (part 2)

To get new windows in our house it has taken a minimum of five installations due to lack of inspection. 

After the problems with the first installation (see part 1), I kept in constant contact with the sales person to ensure the windows that will be replaced are double-hung, has the same grid pattern, and the same energy efficiency.  The sales person advised me the windows will be the exact same as the first installation except double-hung.

I had a family member at my house while the crew came for the second installation since I have to work and they only come M-F 8:00-5:00.  After the windows were installed, my family member called to advise there were grids in both the top and bottom glass instead of just the top (which is how the single-hung windows looked like at the first installation).  We also advised the crew to inspect one of the other windows that were installed previously because the framing was chipped.

The sales person advised me that I now have to work with the manufacturer since his company finished the install.  The issue was now part of the warrantee with the window company and not the sales/installation company.  The sales person told me the window company has a week backlog before they are even able to call people back to discuss problems.  The sales person added that the window company will have to deal with the chipped framing as well.

I finally got a call from the window company and they advised they will come out to replace the windows with the incorrect lower grids.  I asked for an evening or weekend install and they refused.  I asked them if their refusal was serious especially since it is to fix a mistake they made.  They advised they were serious.

The correct windows were finally put in for the third installation.  They looked at the chipped framing window and advised they will come out again to replace it (M-F 8:00-5:00 only again).  Luckily I happened to have had a weekday off to be there when they came a fourth time to fix the chipped framing but the installer ordered the wrong parts and needed to come back a fifth time.  This Thursday will be the fifth time so my fingers are crossed but the cynic in me is expecting trouble.

I share this story to help highlight where Lean could help this situation.  Below is a partial list:

  • The sales/installation company should have done a quality inspection before spending the resources installing the wrong parts.
  • The window company should have a better quality check before they wasted time building incorrect custom windows.
  • I am sure there was a communication flow issue between the sales/installation company and the window company that can be standardized.
  • The fact that there is a weeklong backlog before problems can even begin to be addressed should be seen as a problem for the window company.  Getting to the root cause will help them fix the issue instead of always putting out fires.
  • An understanding of what is value added to the customer will help both companies.  I expect more value when a problem is identified but they treated the issue like it was normal.  From my experience, most customers judge a company by how they deal with problems if they unfortunately encounter one.

What other opportunities do you see for either company?

My 2009 Hansei: Scarcity inspires creativity and innovation.  How can I help harness that inspiration?

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Filed under Business, Improve With Lean, Improvements, Waste

Windows Of Frustration (part 1)

As someone who helps people improve their processes and quality for a living, being a consumer can sometimes drive me batty!  I think there will always be a need for the lean principles to be applied (although some companies do not recognize the need).  My wife and I recently purchased new windows for our whole house and have had cascading problems since. 

The sales person did a quote while we were at work and mailed it to us.  To understand what the windows he quoted were, we visited the showroom and the sales person showed us a double-hung window where both the top and bottom opened.  We advised we wanted the energy-efficient and gas-filled glass.  We pointed out the measurements on the quote weren’t correct so he was going to send someone out again and provide us with a more accurate quote. 

The updated quote came and the price was good so we agreed via telephone.

During the day of the first installation I stayed out of the way from the crew.  I popped out at one point to see one of the windows that was finished.  It was a single-hung window where the top did not open like I ordered! 

I called the salesperson who was very rude stating it was on the quote I agreed to.  I advised it was not the window my wife and I saw in the showroom.  He said that was just a demo of the window brand and we were not clear to him we wanted double-hung.  I asked where it said on the quote that it was single hung to alert me as a customer that I might not be getting what I expected.  He said next to each measurement is the code “SH” for single hung.  I advised him that as the window expert, I would have expected him to explain technical codes to me the consumer and asked why he would not have tried to up-sell me on the more expensive window anyways.  We eventually came to agreement to get the correct custom windows installed.  This was truly a test of my respect for people principle!

Besides the obvious upset customer (me!), there was a lot of waste for the sales/installation company and the manufacturer: 

  • The installers have to send their crew out twice (you will find out it will be three times in part 2!). 
  • The single-hung custom windows are now scrap cost to  the installer and/or manufacturer. 
  • The time the salesperson spent fixing our problem took time away from him to generate new business for the installation company.

Potential counter-measures: 1) Train salespeople to ask customer’s the right kind of questions to ensure their needs are met prior to ordering.  2) Make quotes visual with descriptions with explicit explanations with no code so the customer can understand what they are agreeing to.  3) Don’t blame the customer when problems happen but own the issue.

I will share part 2 next week.  Any other wastes or counter-measures you see in this story?

My 2009 Hansei: Scarcity inspires creativity and innovation.  How can I help harness that inspiration?

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Filed under Business, Change Management, Communication, customers, Improve With Lean, Improvements, Information Flow, Problem Solving, Quality, Respect For People, Root Cause, Value Added, Visual Communication, Visual Language, Waste

“Chain Of How” = Problem

You are wasting employee skills and your customer’s time by not equipping your staff to solve problems.

While getting four new tires this weekend, I was being helped by the crew supervisor.  The other team-members interrupted my time with the supervisor to ask where to order a replacement part for another customer, how to enter a refund for someone else, and other similar questions.  Every customer with these crew-members had to wait for their person to get advice from the supervisor.  Of note, EVERYcrew-member had a question.

I recently finished Matthew May’s “In Pursuit Of Elegance” and he talks about a company named FAVI.  Before the latest CEO began, he noticed a trend in the company loosely translated as a “Chain Of How”.  This means a worker needs to ask a supervisor for help, then it goes to a manager, up to a director, reaches the VP, then finally lands on the CEO.  This model implies only the CEO is smart enough to solve problems.  The book goes into more fascinating detail about FAVI that will get you to think differently.

I saw a little version of  the “Chain Of How” in play while at the tire center.  When you begin to see this pattern in your organization, call it out as a problem immediately

You need to improve information flow so your crew can find answers themselves.  You need to teach, model, and support problem solving methods so your staff is equipped.  Look at your approval protocols to see if they are too stringent.  Look to see if your culture put leaders on the mantle as the smartest people.

Once you train your team how to solve problems and break the “Chain Of How”, you will stop wasting employee skills and customer waiting time.  It will also place you in a prime position to take your Lean journey to a whole new level.

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My 2009 Hansei: Scarcity inspires creativity and innovation.  How can I help harness that inspiration?

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Filed under Business, Improvements, Problem Solving, Waste

Making Costs Visual For Customers

This weekend I went out for fish and chips and saw this fantastic sign.  The restaurant is very nicely helping their customers recognize the costs associated with taking excess inventoryof straws, tartar sauce, napkins, and other condiments.  I am not sure how much savings they have seen since posting this sign, but as a customer I was more aware of how much I was taking (I happen to be a ketsup maniac). 

Do you think this is a good way to help lower waste or is a sign like this is too much to ask customers?

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My 2009 Hansei: Scarcity inspires creativity and innovation.  How can I help harness that inspiration?

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Filed under Improve With Lean, Improvements, Visual Communication, Visual Language, Visual Systems, Waste

Overprocessing Waste: Quotation Marks

Check out The “blog of  “unnecessary” quotation marks to see pictures of signs with unneeded quotation marks.  This takes additional time and printing ink to add the quotes which add no value and possibly confuse the customer.  Reduced “Meats” from 04/30/09 sounds frightening! 

Thanks to Dan Pink for posting about this funny site.

My 2009 Hansei: Scarcity inspires creativity and innovation.  How can I help harness that inspiration?

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Filed under Improve With Lean, Waste

Lean Leadership Articles

I really found a lot to reflect on these great articles related to Lean Leadership.  Check them out!

My 2009 Hansei: Scarcity inspires creativity and innovation.  How can I help harness that inspiration?

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Filed under Business, Gemba, Health Care, Improve With Lean, Kaizen, Learn Leadership, Quality, Root Cause, Waste

Parkinson’s Law and Improvements

In 1955, Cyril Northcote Parkinson wrote what has become Parkinson’s Law:  “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”  The background on this is on Wikipedia.

Lean organizations should have a keen sense to look for this law because it will be fertile ground for improvement.  A lot of front-line workers will not tell you they are stretching the work out throughout their shift because they may not realize they are doing it and it might be perceived there is not enough for them to do which may threaten their job.

It might be obvious there is waste involved when this law is in effect but it can be sneaky to find where it is happening.  This law does not scream there is a problem going on so you have to go to Gemba and look for it (almost like an exterminator).  A good place to start is to ask staff what busy work they do.  Remember the Lean adage “No problem IS a problem” and investigate to find this sneaky waste!

My 2009 Hansei: Scarcity inspires creativity and innovation.  How can I help harness that inspiration?

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Filed under Business, Gemba, Improve With Lean, Improvements, Kaizen, Waste